Zig-Zagging 2: The Case For Fan Outrage

April 7th, 2009 by | Tags: ,

Yesterday I posted about how some characters zig-zag between their strengths and their flaws, and how that was surprisingly representative of real life.  We all struggle with certain things all our lives, and the way characters have to re-visit the same issues over and over is often quite realistic.

Then someone brought up Cassandra Cain in the comments. 

I haven’t made a secret of my dislike of her recent character change, and I think she represents a good example of the problem with this zig-zag method of character development.  I always felt that they got Cassandra Cain completely wrong since her series ended.  Suddenly she could read, write, and speak several languages instead of being able to barely sound out a few words.  For the entirety of her series she was shown as having a horror of killing anyone, after a traumatic incident in her childhood.  In One Year Later and in her mini-series she seriously considered killing her father.  It was just, in my view, all wrong.  All terribly, terribly wrong.  I considered her a completely new character who happened to have the same name as a previous character.

Continuity, however, doesn’t make the same exceptions I do.  According to comics, Cassandra Cain can be said to have the same back-and-forth relationship with casual murder that Jason Todd does.  Anyone writing her from now on can make a case for any story in which she considers killing someone, based on her time in Robin, Teen Titans, and the Batgirl mini-series.  Sure, if someone who feels the way I do about Cassandra Cain writes her in future, she’ll be a sweet kid with no social skills, the best fighter in the world, and an unbending morality.  But if the next writer goes by her mini-series, she’ll be a cranky teen fighter who is always one outrage away from beating someone to death.  And their work will make this new characterization more ingrained and defensible, and the cycle will continue.

This, I think, is why continuity and character geeks shout ‘out-of-character’ so loudly and so angrily.  Once upon a time Batman was a guy who snapped criminals necks and had a fiancee.  A little later he was an eccentric father figure who fought crime and goofed around with Robin and Superman in roughly equal proportion.  Then he was a detective.  Then an ultra-reclusive obsessive.  It only takes one really out-of-character story to change a character for the forseeable future.

I have no doubt the massive fan rampage begun by Stephanie Brown’s death was the thing that eventually brought her back.  Perhaps if a group of fans had yelled and screamed and written angry letter to DC comics, Cassandra Cain would still be a character I recognize.  Although I’ve grown out of the phase of fanhood in which I blame everything I hate on arrogant and heartless editors who labor all day to enrage and disappoint fans, I can see the use in kicking up a fuss every now and again in defense of a character you love.

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6 comments to “Zig-Zagging 2: The Case For Fan Outrage”

  1. also really gotta point out that Navajo is an extremely complex language for some to learn, so that part of Robin OYL was especially stupid.

  2. The outrage at making her a killer I can agree with. But as a fan of Batgirl, the outrage at her learning to read and write I just don’t get at one level. I mean, yeah, I think she’s more interesting as a near-mute illiterate, but wouldn’t it kinda logically follow that she would learn to develop those skills more, at least from the urging of the people who supposedly care about her? During her ongoing the subject came up at times and Babs getting angry at her for giving up her attempts to study caused a rift between them. Then when they reunited they made it clear that Cassandra COULD learn to read and overcome the mental difficulty. So why are so many fans seemingly upset that Cassandra Cain is getting an education, and becoming more confident in how she communicates with others? Do they not want the character to be happy? Do they not want her to develop in any way?

  3. @Stu: Good question. I, personally, thought that she was more interesting with the learning disabilities that she had. Also, she got something pretty incredible in return, which was basically reading people’s thoughts through their body language.

    The problem, though, was not that she could read or write. The problem was that she was written as though she could always read and write, even though she spent 70-something issues of her series illiterate.

  4. I think it would be interesting and more realistic if she was shown as now semi-literate and still struggling and learning. In the mini-series it was mentioned that she took ESL classes for a year and became literate along with Alfred’s help. But there is no way she would be at the same level as other people her age who grew up reading and writing in school and out of it, and whose first language was English.

    She has learning disabilities, and even with the best help, it’s not likely she would be completely up to speed with only a year’s worth of study.

    There is potential to make things work, but if they take away the Batgirl mantle from her, I’m not sure she’ll be given much of a chance to shine again any time soon.

  5. (Er, not that I would say she really shined all that much in the mini-series, but at least she was given a *chance*, even if the writer didn’t quite pull it off IMO.)

  6. Really it just matters that a good writer writes a good story. It is pretty much impossible to write a good story with Cassandra Cain and Jason Todd because the only way to do it would be to ignore most everything beforehand and no one with the brains to do that is dumb enough to agree to write those characters.